Sunday, December 27, 2015

THE COBBLER: Tom McCarthy's humane fantasy flick turns out to be worth a look, too

After being quietly blown away by Spotlight, and recalling the article in which New York magazine noted that filmmaker Tom McCarthy had been the recipient of both the best and worst reviews of the year for his two most recent movies, we decided to take a look at that "worst-reviewed" film --THE COBBLER, an Adam Sandler vehicle that, after garnering less than sterling notices at last year's Toronto Film Festival, bypassed theaters for a straight-to-video USA debut. In the afore-mentioned article McCarthy noted, "We knew what we were doing with The Cobbler. It’s just how people responded to it was different than we figured.” Fair enough. So spouse and I settled back on our sofa last night to see just what that movie was all about. (It's available now via Netflix streaming and elsewhere.)

The film is full of surprises, beginning with Sandler's performance, which is low-key and a tad depressive. The story itself has to do with a magical stitching machine passed down via generations of cobblers to the latest one (played by Sandler), allowing that cobbler to step into the shoes he has repaired and then simultaneously "become" the person who owns those shoes. As fantasies go, this one has a myriad of possibilities, many of which are mined by Mr. McCarthy (shown above) -- though not in the manner one might expect.

Those expectations are subverted in ways that are mostly surprising and charming, in keeping with McCarthy's humanist tendencies. First off, rather than having Mr. Sandler use his so-called "comic gifts" to impersonate this myriad of shoe owners, instead it is all the other characters (and the actors who play them) who must impersonate the cobbler that Sandler plays -- as well as playing their own characters. This makes for less wild and crazy humor than it does a kind of steady, low-key charm.

The other character here include everyone from a pretty, feisty, community organizer (Melonie Diaz), shown two photos up) and a tough and scary criminal type (Method Man, above)

to a best-friend barber and neighbor (Steve Buscemi, above, left) and a wealthy real estate mogul (Ellen Barkin, below). No less than Dustin Hoffman even makes a couple of fine appearances here.

Look for Downton Abbey's Dan Stevens (below) playing a smooth 'n semi-sleazy Brit, and the ever-lovable Lynn Cohen (shown at bottom) as Sandler's mom. The whole cast, in fact, is glossier and more on-point than fantasies like this usually deserve or receive.

As co-writer (with Paul Sado), McCarthy gives good vent to his kindlier side, making the movie a more pleasant fit for a family outing than are most Sandler comedies. How our cobbler chooses and uses those many different shoes contributes mightily toward making this movie such sweet, comic fun.

If The Cobbler is certainly nowhere near the don't-miss category, it is still a pleasant surprise. I suspect the bad reviews were as much a reaction to the dislike so many critics feel toward Mr. Sandler than to the movie itself. 

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